When Adrienne Tetz was outed three years ago for keeping backyard chickens, she had no idea the effect her hens would have on Red Deer.
Tetz said she was shocked that people took a great interest on both sides of the chicken fence.
“I didn’t think people would care what we were doing,” laughed Tetz. “It’s been interesting how it’s caught a lot of attention. I was afraid for a little while that I would ruin it for everyone.”
The formation of a local chapter of CLUCK — the Canadian Liberated Urban Chicken Klub — came first to support and educate city folks who wanted to raise chickens in their backyards.
Then came the urban chicken debate, which spurred a pilot project allowing 30 families to raise up to six chickens in backyard coops for a year.
And on Monday, city council passed first reading of a bylaw that would allow a maximum of 65 chicken licences to be issued each year. A person would apply to keep up to four urban chickens and must pay a $23 licensing fee.
Tetz said she would be happier with six chickens because many of the owners in the pilot raised six chickens. Administration reasoned it would be easier to regulate only four chickens. Other municipalities like Vancouver and Surrey, B.C., allow up to four chickens. Those with six chickens would be allowed to keep their chickens until the animals die.
Tetz said at first blush the 65 licences seemed a bit restrictive but she said that is probably where the city is at with interest.
About 15 people have called the city asking about keeping backyard chickens.
The proposed bylaw would be similar to other city animal control bylaws such as those related to cats and dogs. They are enforced on a complaint basis.
Administration will come back in a year with a brief report on the impacts to the community and any other issues related to the hens.
Tetz said raising chickens in the city is still relatively new and sometimes it is just about exposure.
“That’s why I think it is great that they are limiting the number of licences so people can slowly adjust to the idea,” said Tetz. “I definitely hope people will do this responsibly. I think the bylaw is set up to enable people to do that, which makes it a better experience for everyone.”
Of the 30 chicken owners in the pilot, the average number of chickens was 4.84. Ten families have six chickens, five families own five chickens and 15 have four or less chickens.
In October, the Advocate asked candidates for city council if they supported backyard chickens.
Those elected did not change their opinion save for Coun. Dianne Wyntjes and Coun. Frank Wong, who joined the group in support of the proposed bylaw on Monday.
Wyntjes said she was drawing on her past experience when she filled out the survey in October. At the time, she thought the opponents were correct in the belief that chickens do not belong in the city.
But like most on council, she toured the city coops in the pilot and learned more about raising the birds with the help of CLUCK. She said it was about not being hypocritical in her response or a contradiction in terms.
“We can’t say we believe in sustainability and community gardens growing our own food and thinking about our future (and not support the bylaw),” said Wyntjes. “Also that connection for young kids to understand where their food comes from. That’s what pushed me over to support it.”
She stressed the proposed bylaw is about urban chickens only and does not open the barnyard door for other animals like pigs, goats and sheep.
Wong said he changed his mind after visiting about seven coops in the city. He was also surprised to learn that two of his friends were in the pilot. He was pleased that the number of chickens permitted dropped to four per licence.
The fate of urban chickens will be ultimately decided when council considers first and second reading of the proposed bylaw on July 7.